All You Need To Know About Stress And Alcohol
Drinking alcohol may seem to provide some relief—positive feelings and relaxation—in the short term, but as stressful events continue long-term, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to medical and psychological problems and increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorders.
Physiologically, stress is defined as anything that challenges the body to function in its usual fashion. Injury, illness, or exposure to extreme temperatures can cause stress to the body. Grieving, depression, fear, and even sexual activity can cause psychological stress. There are so many causes of stress because of drinking alcohol.
What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol is a type of chemical that mimics the neurotransmitter glutamate and plays an important role in the brain and nervous system. Most of the alcohol you drink is absorbed through the stomach, which is where toxins are released when you eat and ingest food. In the blood, alcohol is broken down by alcohol dehydrogenase to produce acetaldehyde and then acetate, which can cause metabolic stress.
Blood glucose and adrenaline are also affected. Blood sugar drops and there are small movements and muscle contractions in the stomach that encourage more alcohol to be absorbed. These events combined with a feeling of relaxation also provide psychological relief.
Alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is the ingredient found in beer, wine and spirits that causes drunkenness.
Alcohol is formed when yeast ferments (breaks down without oxygen) the sugars in different food. For example, wine is made from the sugar in grapes, beer from the sugar in malted barley (a type of grain), cider from the sugar in apples, and vodka from the sugar in potatoes, beets or other plants.
Alcohol is classed as a ‘sedative hypnotic’ drug2, which means it acts to depress the central nervous system at high doses. At lower doses, alcohol can act as a stimulant,3 inducing feelings of euphoria and talkativeness, but drinking too much alcohol at one session can lead to drowsiness, and respiratory depression (where breathing becomes slow, shallow or stops entirely), coma or even death.
As well as its acute and potentially lethal sedative effect at high doses, alcohol has effects on every organ in the body and these effects depend on the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over time.
Alcohol is the primary active ingredient in some of the most popular drinks on the planet. Beer, wine, spirits, and liquors all contain varying amounts of alcohol. They all cause the well-known state of alcohol intoxication or “drunkenness.” The chemical name of the drinking alcohol we all know and love is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. But ethanol is only one of the many types of alcohol found in nature. Learn more about the four major kinds of alcohol and their uses and effects.
Drinking a glass of wine before bed helps the body to relax and prepare for sleep and prevents sleep problems.
What Are the Different Types of Alcohol?
Isopropyl alcohol, or isopropanol, is made from propylene gas and has strong disinfecting properties. Rubbing alcohol is diluted or watered-down isopropanol. Isopropyl alcohol is a common ingredient in cleaning products and works especially well for sterilization. It is most frequently used for household cleaning purposes like disinfecting electronics, cleaning stainless steel, refreshing sponges, and cleaning makeup brushes.
Thanks to its natural anti-bacterial properties, isopropyl alcohol can also be used medically as an antiseptic. It is also useful when inhaled, providing relief from postoperative nausea. Isopropanol is entirely unsafe for drinking and can cause severe toxic effects if swallowed in large quantities. Symptoms of isopropyl alcohol poisoning include flushing, vomiting, low blood pressure, respiratory depression, and dizziness.
Methanol or wood alcohol is most commonly used in manufacturing processes. It is an industrial-strength solvent used to make products such as paint removers, antifreeze, and printing ink. Methanol is also a commercially important base reactant used to produce compounds like acetone, methane, and formaldehyde. These byproducts can then be used to manufacture everything from plastics to explosives. Methanol and its vapours are highly flammable and require special care for use and transportation.
Although methanol has an odour and appearance similar to ethanol, it is more extremely toxic. Ingesting as little as 10 mL can result in permanent blindness, and 30 mL can induce coma or cause death. To keep people from drinking ethanol intended for industrial use, small quantities of methanol are often added to it. This creates denatured (or contaminated) alcohol that is poisonous to the human body.
Ethyl alcohol or ethanol is the chemical name of the essence found in all alcoholic beverages. It is the only type of alcohol that is safe for consumption. While it can be used as a fuel additive or as an industrial solvent, it is most commonly used for recreational purposes because of its distinct effect on mood and behaviour. It depresses the central nervous system by enhancing the impact of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.
The drunkenness caused by alcohol exhibits effects like euphoria, happiness, increased sociability and decreased anxiety. It also exhibits impairment of memory, cognition, and motor and sensory functions. Yeast or bacteria chemically convert sugars into ethanol through the process of fermentation.
Sugars that are used to produce ethanol can come from barley, wheat, grapes, or other grains and fruits depending on the type of drink being created. Fermented beverages can be drunk directly, or can be further distilled to a higher alcohol percentage. All alcoholic drinks can be divided into two broad categories based on their manufacturing processes.
Undistilled or fermented alcohol only goes through the fermentation process and is not clarified or refined in any way. There are hundreds of types of undistilled alcoholic drinks but the most popular ones are beer, wine, and cider. They mainly differ in the crop or fruit used as the base and the variety of yeast used for fermentation.
Slight differences in the soil composition or weather in the area of production can also cause changes in the drinks' flavours. Fermented beverages do not exceed 15% alcohol by volume unless they have been modified externally.
Distilled alcohol is fermented ethanol that has been put through a distillation or purification process. This is done to increase the alcohol by volume (ABV) ratio of the beverages. The distillation process separates the alcohol from the fermented brew so that it becomes much more concentrated.
Distilled drinks usually range from 20% to 70% ABV. Although it is possible to distill spirits to 95%, most drinks are about 40% ABV. Vodka, gin, brandy, whiskey, rum, and tequila are some of the best-known distilled drinks. Because of their high alcohol content, it might be necessary to mix distilled drinks with water, soft drinks, or fruit juices to make them more palatable.
The Effects Of Alcohol On The Body
Alcohol’s impact on your body starts from the moment you take your first sip. While an occasional glass of wine with dinner isn’t a cause for concern, the cumulative effects of drinking wine, beer, or spirits can take its toll.
Digestive And Endocrine Glands
Drinking too much alcohol can cause abnormal activation of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. The buildup of these enzymes can lead to inflammation known as pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can become a long-term condition and cause serious complications.
The liver is an organ that helps break down and remove harmful substances from your body, including alcohol. Long-term alcohol use interferes with this process. It also increases your risk for chronic liver inflammation and liver disease. The scarring caused by this inflammation is known as cirrhosis. The formation of scar tissue destroys the liver. As the liver becomes increasingly damaged, it has a harder time removing toxic substances from your body.
Liver disease is life-threatening and leads to toxins and waste buildup in your body. Women are at higher risk of developing alcoholic liver disease. Women’s bodies are more likely to absorb more alcohol and need longer periods of time to process it. Women also show liver damage more quickly than men.
The pancreas helps regulate your body’s insulin use and response to glucose. When your pancreas and liver aren’t functioning properly, you run the risk of experiencing low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. A damaged pancreas may also prevent the body from producing enough insulin to utilize sugar. This can lead to hyperglycemia or too much sugar in the blood.
If your body can’t manage and balance your blood sugar levels, you may experience greater complications and side effects related to diabetes. It’s important for people with diabetes or hypoglycemia to avoid excessive amounts of alcohol.
Central Nervous System
One of the easiest ways to understand alcohol’s impact on your body is by understanding how it affects your central nervous system. Slurred speech is one of the first signs you’ve had too much to drink. Alcohol can reduce communication between your brain and your body. This makes coordination more difficult. You may have a hard time balancing. You should never drive after drinking.
As alcohol causes more damage to your central nervous system, you may experience numbness and tingling sensations in your feet and hands.
Drinking also makes it difficult for your brain to create long-term memories. It also reduces your ability to think clearly and make rational choices. Over time, frontal lobe damage can occur. This area of the brain is responsible for emotional control, short-term memory, and judgement, in addition to other vital roles.
Chronic and severe alcohol abuse can also cause permanent brain damage. This can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder that affects memory.
Some people who drink heavily may develop a physical and emotional dependency on alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can be difficult and life-threatening. You often need professional help to break an alcohol addiction.
As a result, many people seek medical detoxification to get sober. It’s the safest way to ensure you break the physical addiction. Depending on the risk for withdrawal symptoms, detoxification can be managed on either an outpatient or inpatient basis.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heavy sweating
- Digestive system
The connection between alcohol consumption and your digestive system might not seem immediately clear. The side effects often only appear after there has been damage. And the more you drink, the greater the damage will become.
Drinking can damage the tissues in your digestive tract and prevent your intestines from digesting food and absorbing nutrients and vitamins. As a result, malnutrition may occur.
Heavy drinking can also lead to:
- A feeling of fullness in your abdomen
- Diarrhea or painful stools
For people who drink heavily, ulcers or hemorrhoids (due to dehydration and constipation) aren’t uncommon. And they may cause dangerous internal bleeding. Ulcers can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early.
People who consume too much alcohol may also be at risk for cancer. People who drink frequently are more likely to develop cancer in the mouth, throat, esophagus, colon, or liver. People who regularly drink and use tobacco together have an even greater cancer risk (Trusted Source).
Alcohol can affect your heart and lungs. People who are chronic drinkers of alcohol have a higher risk of heart-related issues than people who do not drink. Women who drink are more likely to develop heart disease than men who drink (Trusted Source).
Circulatory system complications include:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty pumping blood through the body
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
Difficulty absorbing vitamins and minerals from food can cause anemia. This is a condition where you have a low red blood cell count. One of the biggest symptoms of anemia is fatigue.
Sexual And Reproductive Health
You may think drinking alcohol can lower your inhibitions and help you have more fun in bed. But the reality is quite different. Men who drink too much are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. Heavy drinking can also prevent sex hormone production and lower your libido.
Women who drink too much may stop menstruating. That puts them at a greater risk for infertility. Women who drink heavily during pregnancy have a higher risk of premature delivery, miscarriage, or stillbirth.
Women who drink alcohol while pregnant put their unborn children at risk. Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD) are a serious concern.
Other conditions include:
- Learning difficulties
- Long-term health issues
- Increased emotional problems
- Physical development abnormalities
Skeletal And Muscle Systems
Long-term alcohol use may prevent your body from keeping your bones strong. This habit may cause thinner bones and increase your risk for fractures if you fall. And fractures may heal more slowly.
Drinking alcohol may also lead to muscle weakness, cramping, and eventually atrophy.
Drinking heavily reduces your body’s natural immune system. This makes it more difficult for your body to fight off invading germs and viruses.
People who drink heavily over a long period of time are also more likely to develop pneumonia or tuberculosis than the general population. About 10 percent of all tuberculosis cases worldwide can be tied to alcohol consumption (Trusted Source). Drinking alcohol also increases your risk for several types of cancer, including mouth, breast, and colon. You can also read about the stages of alcoholism and recognize an addiction.
As alcohol mixes with the body, it triggers an overactive nervous system. Neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, cortisol, serotonin, and norepinephrine are released into the bloodstream, causing hypertension, hypertension, or cardiac arrhythmia.
This causes liver damage and prevents healthy detoxification of alcohol from the liver. As a result, the body continues to produce toxins and is unable to rid itself of them. Chronic alcoholism is a very destructive disease that creates its own diseases.
One of the most destructive effects of alcohol on the body is that it prevents the body from adequately detoxifying and eliminating toxic substances. Excessive alcohol consumption can affect almost every organ of the body, especially the central nervous system.
The Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol
The short-term effects of alcohol (more specifically ethanol) consumption range from a decrease in anxiety and motor skills and euphoria at lower doses to intoxication (drunkenness), stupor, unconsciousness, anterograde amnesia (memory “blackouts”), and central nervous system depression at higher doses. Cell membranes are highly permeable to alcohol, so once alcohol is in the bloodstream, it can diffuse into nearly every cell in the body.
The concentration of alcohol in the blood is measured via blood alcohol content (BAC). The amount and circumstances of consumption play a large role in determining the extent of intoxication; for example, eating a heavy meal before alcohol consumption causes alcohol to absorb more slowly.
The amount of alcohol consumed largely determines the extent of hangovers, although hydration also plays a role. After excessive drinking, stupor and unconsciousness can both occur. Extreme levels of consumption can cause alcohol poisoning and death; in fact, a concentration in the bloodstream of 0.36% will kill half of those affected. Alcohol may also cause death indirectly by asphyxiation, caused by vomiting.
Alcohol can greatly exacerbate sleep problems. During abstinence, residual disruptions in sleep regularity and sleep patterns[clarification needed] are the greatest predictors of relapse If you start drinking alcohol when you're already experiencing stress, the alcohol will numb your stress and you won't feel the feelings associated with it. But it also makes you feel like you can handle more stress. Your body can only handle so much.
Drinking alcohol when you're already under stress will not only mask your stress, but may make the pain, grief, or trauma worse. When you're already in pain and feel helpless, alcohol can numb those feelings too. In extreme cases of alcohol abuse, the mind actually blocks pain by creating a false sense of euphoria. When you can't feel the pain anymore, you turn to more alcohol to stop your brain from registering the pain.
Signs You May Have An Alcohol Problem
Sometimes it can be hard to notice when a regular couple of drinks has turned into too many, too often. The fact that you’re thinking about whether you have a problem is a good start. There are some signs of alcohol dependence that you can look out for.
Mental and social signs include:
- Worrying about when you’ll be able to have your next drink
- Drinking alcohol, or wanting to, when you wake up in the morning
- Consuming alcohol regularly on your own, or trying to hide your drinking from those around you
- Worsening relationships with friends or family
- Always staying out late and encouraging friends to keep drinking when they’ve said they want to go home.
Physical signs include:
- Sweating when you don’t drink alcohol
- Feeling nauseous when you don’t drink alcohol
- Being unable to get to sleep without drinking alcohol
- Need to drink more and more alcohol to get drunk.
- You're always drunk—not just a little drunk. Your job, personal relationships, friendships, family life, and so much else in your life are affected by your drinking. You can't stay away from alcohol even when you know you should.
- You can't think straight. You forget things. You're always inebriated, or worse, well past the point of intoxication.
- You're a lush. No matter how much you drink, you can't quit.
- You're afraid to stop drinking, or you feel like you need to drink.
- Your friends are annoyed by your constant partying.
- Your health is suffering. You have all the classic signs of chronic alcohol abuse.
- You can't stop. You start drinking too much. You're getting ready to start drinking, or you already started.
- You're secretly worried you'll never be able to quit.
How To Use Alcohol Wisely
The guidelines for risky alcohol use for healthy adults:
- The mild risk level for men is 0–2 drinks and for women 0–1 drink per day.
- The moderate risk level for men is 14 drinks, and for women 7 drinks and over per week
- The high-risk level for men is 23-24 drinks and for women 12-16 drinks per week
These guidelines are estimated as defining such limits is problematic for several reasons. For example, many illnesses are aggravated in direct proportion to alcohol consumption without a “threshold value”. Also note that the young, the elderly and the infirm can experience harmful effects even when they consume alcohol in moderation as per these guidelines. During pregnancy, even small amounts of alcohol increase the risks for the fetus.
Being able to drink alcohol in moderation requires knowledge of how much alcohol each beverage contains. In order to control your drinking, it's a good idea to learn how to assess your consumption in standard servings. Every now and then you should assess how much you drink on a weekly level to make sure you're not jeopardizing your health.
If alcohol controls your thoughts and actions, you have two choices: to stop drinking altogether or to cut down.
Alcohol is known to have a range of harmful effects on short-term and long-term health. Alcohol consumption can have serious consequences especially if taken in large quantities or with a heavy frequency. Because of its psychoactive effects, regular alcohol use can quickly become addictive. If you or someone you know is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, reach out to a healthcare provider to learn about treatment and recovery options.
Many of the studies I have read show that drinking alcohol may have a place in our lives and in our diets, but with age comes wisdom and maturity. There are so many more factors that can impact our health than what our beverage of choice is. Sometimes when you are going through a stressful time, you need to completely stop consuming alcohol so you can be in your right state of mind and find a way to deal with the stressful situation.
Make a list of the things you need to have on hand if you are going to be stress-free and have everything you need.
Whether you're looking for a lightweight wine or a vodka tonic, finding the right drink can have the desired effect, but the right drink takes planning.
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